When the GoTitleFree campaign started, the first point of discussion was where marital status titles were used.
We asked ourselves where we see titles relating to marriage and gender in day to day life.
Very quickly we realised that… we mostly don’t.
We don’t use them between friends. We don’t use marital status titles at work with colleagues or on a business to business capacity.
They’re admittedly sometimes used by relatives committed to sending greetings cards by post… however that doesn’t really count, because relatives are unlikely to get your title wrong, or misgender a person within their own family.
Mainly, we see titles when organisations communicate with us. When they send us bills, statements, bank cards and letters.
Our titles are in those places, because we’re asked for one, when registering or applying for a product or service, and we give it, because we don’t have an option to bypass it.
It’s often the first thing organisations ask, and there’s a red asterisk there, to indicate that it’s a ‘required field’.
We often can’t ignore it.
There is no ‘blank’ option.
There is no ‘prefer not to say’ option.
We’re not given a ‘how would you like to be addressed’ field.
Then, by being forced to provide a title, we are creating an account with it. We have generated a profile which will be used in all future communications with us.
Unfortunately, in many situations, this profile will be based on inaccurate information.
- 68% of women said that organisations ‘fairly regularly’ or ‘very often’ got their title wrong when communicating with them.
- 92% of non-binary people said that they felt titles were not necessary in any situation.
- 71% of people surveyed by GoTitleFree said that they would be put off buying a product or service if they were addressed incorrectly.
That is your business case for unpicking the request. Right there!
We got thinking about all the reasons why Heads of Customer Service should encourage and prioritise moving away from using marital status titles
- They change. Women marry. They divorce (42% in fact). A woman may become a widow. And until you remind them of your out-of-date system, they’re not going to call you and tell you.
- We live on a gender fluid world. In March 2021 Eddie Izzard said his gender was elastic, “I go in girl mode or boy mode”. Cara Delevingne has openly spoken about having a gender fluid identity, and these are just two examples of famous people. There are c270,000 non-binary people in the UK alone who have no option to select which truly represents them in that title drop-down box.
- The people who speak to your customers are your ambassadors. The public can be abrasive. The job can be a tough one. – If your colleagues responsible for making outgoing calls or receiving incoming inquiries are best equipped to have positive accurate conversations, they will succeed more, and be happier in their role.
Ultimately, we believe that titles are used so much because you want your teams to be formal, and polite. The intention is good, but like all requests for data, there must be a valid reason and purpose for asking it, and in four years of campaigning, we have yet to uncover one.
Using titles to address people is not being polite if your teams are getting this wrong. They may be doing the opposite!
One water utility company customer service person told us:
“I hate not having the right information about a person. I know immediately that I’ve annoyed them when I’ve used a name they don’t use, or pronounce it wrong. It’s so frustrating!
They’re already expecting to be ‘sold to’, or are annoyed because they have a problem, and if I can’t even address them properly, it makes the situation even worse!”
Another person working in personal donations team for a major health charity said:
“When you ask people how they would like to be addressed, I think they really appreciate that. Some are a bit confused by the question, but when I ask if I can call them by their first name, they always say ‘yes’. I don’t think we need all this formality any more.
Even if there is a title on record, I don’t use it. Over the years I’ve been working in fundraising I’ve realised that I’m rarely wrong when I use a first name, whereas titles are a minefield!”
When customers are irritated, they’re rude. They won’t engage, they won’t buy, and they possibly won’t give your employee speaking with them a nice experience either.
We are campaigning for a title free world, and for the rights of women and non-binary people, but we’re also campaigning for a better customer service experience for your team.
Training your teams to refer to people in a gender free way can be the best gift you can give them!
But of course we know that going ‘title free’ is not just about removing the box. Each person on your team needs to understand why the change has taken place. They need to understand it so that they can be a part of the decision to speak to all your stakeholders in a way which enables authenticity.
On the 1st July 2022, we’ll be giving employers all the practical tips they need to truly go ‘title free’. We’ll be guiding you through some of the main things you need to consider regarding how you request maritals status titles, how you store them, and how you use them in your sales and communications.
In the meantime, please follow us on:
If you want to find out more about what to consider when training your teams in having gender free conversations, please book a speaker: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog was followed by an online event on the 1st July at 10.30am:
A World Without Titles: Taking the Next Step Towards Being Gender Inclusive
We were joined by the LGBTQ+ network chair at Superdrug, Wayne Russell – a business which recently added a ‘Leave Blank’ option in their drop-down list when customers are registering.